One of the first decisions you’re going to make as a new mom is how you’ll feed your baby.
There are so many things to consider when it comes to making the right choice for you and your baby.
You want to make sure you’re working with a medical professional to decide what’s right for you.
Breastfeeding can be an amazing journey for both mother and baby and it’s a wonderful option for feeding.
There are so many benefits and bonding experiences and many moms find that with some assistance and education, it’s the right choice for them.
Gently Weaning Breastfed Baby Basics
Breastfeeding will serve not only as nutrition for your baby but also as a source of comfort.
Many breastfed babies will nurse to eat and nurse to soothe themselves if they’re upset, anxious, or can’t sleep.
Because of the soothing and comfort associated with nursing, it can be difficult to wean.
Sometimes the baby is ready to wean on their own and sometimes mom is ready to start the process.
Whenever you’re ready, and as long as you’re working with your pediatrician, it’s a perfectly good time to start the process.
It’s widely recommended by pediatricians to use only breastmilk or formula before 12 months of age, so if you’re weaning before their first birthday, you’ll want to discuss that process with your child’s doctor.
However, after the 12-month mark, it’s usually ok to go straight to cow’s milk or another, approved, source of milk.
If you’re hoping to wean your breastfed baby once they hit a certain age, there are a few things you can do to help make that transition time easier.
- Prepare for the time ahead
- Use sippy cups in place of bottles after 9 months or when ok’d by the pediatrician
- Delay, don’t deny
- Delay/distract/redirect in a positive way with tickling or showing them a fun toy or game
- Transition nursing to nap and bedtimes only
- Use lots of distractions and playtime to help your toddler get tired naturally
- Set naptime and bedtime routines that don’t include bottles or cups
- Avoid using a pacifier after 6-9 months
- Avoid using milk/nursing as ways to soothe
- Praise the use of cups with smiles and claps
Starting the Weaning Process
If you want to let your baby self-wean, and that takes until they’re two and a half, that’s a fine choice!
More power to you, mama!
Sometimes babies stop on their own but there are many different reasons why you may want to stop breastfeeding at a certain point.
Some women don’t feel comfortable pumping at work – for me that was a big reason to wean.
I wanted to stop bringing my equipment back and forth and using all my breaks to sit in a pumping room.
Some women simply don’t like breastfeeding and they’re anxious for their independence back.
Whatever the reason, there are options to help you transition.
When to Prepare to Gently Wean Your Breastfed Baby
If you plan on weaning as close to 12 months as possible, you’ll want to introduce some of these things as early as six months.
Getting your baby used to cups and food early on will help them depend less on nursing.
If nursing is your child’s only source of food and comfort for the entire first 12 months of their lives, it will be a little harder to wean them once they’ve reached their first birthday.
Introducing sippy cups, nap and bedtime routines, and helping them to use play to get tired will make for a quicker and easier transition.
Just like starting to breastfeed, weaning will be a process. Both mom and baby are going through some changes and might run into a few bumps in the road.
Setbacks are normal. Hard days are normal. Don’t get discouraged.
Some babies wean in 2 months, some babies take 6 months.
One thing to remember is that you won’t be sending your child off to college still nursing, so there is an end in sight, whether it’s showing itself now or not!
Stay positive and make sure to take care of yourself during this process.
It’s easy to get frustrated and say “no” to nursing but it’s important to remember that nursing has been a source of food and comfort for your child’s entire life, up until this point, so being denied nursing will be difficult and could possibly cause anxiety.
As with any change for mom and baby, consistency is key.
Keep a positive, open mind. You and baby will be on your way to fully-weaned in no time.
Preparing to Gently Wean Your Breastfed Baby
1. Sippy Cups
Introduce sippy cups early. Many pediatricians recommend starting cups around 6 months using a small amount of water or breastmilk for practice.
Get your child used to sippy cups before they realize how much they enjoy breast or bottle.
Once your child gains steady control of the cups and is able to drink without spilling, offer larger amounts of milk in the cups and try to replace one or two nursing sessions.
2. Skip Bottles
Many moms who are in the weaning process believe moving to bottles is the next logical step from the breast, but eventually, you’ll have to wean them off bottles too.
After your child has gained enough control to use sippy cups, offer cups instead of bottles as much as you can.
Bring milk to your child’s daycare or sitter in sippy cups. Take cups on car trips or to the park.
The more your child gets used to drinking without a nipple (breast or bottle), the easier it will be to gently wean them from breastfeeding.
3. Designate Nursing Times
Set designated nursing times to help your child understand that nursing is for a specific reason.
A great time for nursing is naps and bedtime.
Nursing typically helps to induce relaxation and sleepiness so this can become part of your routine to help your child understand when it’s time to rest.
If you keep nursing to designated times, your child will become less dependent on nursing for comfort or alleviating boredom.
4. Delay, Don’t Deny
Another way you can help slow nursing-on-demand is by delaying, use distractions like tickling or singing, or give them a soft toy to hug.
Since many babies use nursing to calm down when they’re hurt or upset it’s an easy way for moms to quickly quiet their baby.
But your child will eventually realize tears can get them what they want.
My older daughter would sometimes bump her head on purpose just to nurse!
So find ways to soothe them early on, around 8-9 months that don’t include nursing.
It’s better to delay rather than deny completely because if you try to deny nursing entirely, they’ll push even harder—babies can be stubborn!
If your distraction methods are not working and your child’s crying is getting worse, not better, they may need to nurse at that moment.
Always try soothing them in other ways first; offer a hug, a cup of milk, or try to make them laugh.
If you can get them to stop crying without nursing, they’re likely to become open to other soothing methods.
Remember, though, that nursing has been their main source of food and comfort for so long so if your other methods aren’t working, go ahead and comfort your babe.
Calm babies make much more progress in the long run than crying babies!
5. Mix Breastmilk with Whole Milk
Per our pediatrician’s recommendation, we started our kids on whole milk products around 9 months, like yogurt and cottage cheese.
We wanted to see how it would affect them before we introduced whole milk as a drink.
When we felt ready to introduce milk as a drink, we started to mix it into breast milk little by little. The first week we introduced whole milk we did 3/4 breastmilk and 1/4 whole milk.
We did this for about two weeks, then increased to half and half, and finally to 3/4 whole milk and 1/4 breastmilk before switching entirely over to whole milk.
Slow mixing helps the baby adjust to the flavor as well as dietary differences. If your child’s doctor okays it, start mixing whole milk in around 11 mos.
By their first birthday, you should be able to move them right over to whole milk entirely.
Things to Remember About Gently Weaning Your Breastfed Baby
Every baby is different, so whether you’re a first-time mom or this is your fifth child, the journey may look different. Always start with the basics.
- Most babies nurse for comfort in addition to nutrition, which means they may still look to you for comfort when it’s nap time or when they’re feeling cranky. Delay, don’t deny.
- Some babies will wean in 2 months and some will take up to a year. Make sure you’re moving at a pace that feels right for you and your baby. If you’re having trouble, talk with your pediatrician.
- As soon as your child is able to use a sippy cup on their own, there is no reason to return to bottles. Avoid reliance on nipples for comfort.
- Try offering a cup of milk and some cuddle time, if you’re used to putting the baby to bed by nursing, then have your partner bring the baby to bed.
- You could also try sleep training methods if that’s right for your family. We opted to nurse until around 8 months and then offer cups of milk and rock to bed, which worked fine for both of my children.
- Gentle weaning helps you slow your milk production. This is one of the best benefits! When you stop breastfeeding, your milk supply will continue. You can become engorged and very uncomfortable. If you continue pumping, you will continue to produce milk. So the best way to reduce your supply, without having to slowly pump and dump, is by gently weaning your breastfed baby. When you slow down on nursing, your milk supply will naturally decrease.
- When and how to stop nursing is an important decision made between mom and baby. It can be emotional for some women, and it can be frustrating.
Just like pregnancy, delivery, and motherhood, your breastfeeding journey will be unique to you and your baby – and each of your babies could present you with a different experience.
Time and patience, along with a plan and good support around you will help you transition to the next phase of your mother-child relationship.